Guidance for speakers

Please be aware that the audience for this conference is based in locations around the world, has a range of accessibility needs, and will often be dealing with technical challenges such as small screens and slow or unstable Internet connections.

To help us to provide the best possible conference experience for everyone involved, we ask that you read through the following guidelines carefully before developing your talk or presentation.

Planning and formatting a presentation

Most contributors to the conventional paper sessions and lightning talks will have a visual presentation of some kind. We don’t require this, but we do strongly encourage it: it’s typically much more difficult to engage the audience purely by speaking without visual aids online than it would be live in the room.

Most contributors compose their presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint, but, as you’ll be sharing the presentation from your own computer, you can use any software or approach you prefer, provided you can get it to display over Zoom.

Recent versions of PowerPoint are set up to create slides in a widescreen format of 16:9 ratio (16 units across to 9 down). This is also the format of many screens and webcams, and will be the typical setting for most of the Zoom sessions. Older versions of PowerPoint by default use the narrower 4:3 ratio. If your presentation is in 4:3, it should work fine, but won’t use the whole of the available area.

screen formats

Please bear in mind the needs of blind and visually impaired participants. You should aim to make the visual elements as useful as possible to audience members who can access them, while still keeping the discussion comprehensible to those who can’t. So, instead of saying “As you can see down here, the figures in this part of the world were even higher”, you might give the same on-screen indications but say “And the figures in South Asia were even higher, around 30%”. One useful approach is to practise delivering your presentation to someone who can’t see you or the slides, and check they can follow it.

We appreciate that some contributors prefer a display-focused presentation with little text or discussion, but we must note that the technical and accessibility requirements of this conference don’t particularly suit that style of presentation. It may be possible to minimise the problem by supplying presentation materials for participants to access in advance (see next section). Please contact us at if you have any queries.

Make sure that all slide content, including text, is visually clear and distinct. For maximum readability by the widest possible audience, we recommend the following design approach:

  • a plain (solid colour) slide background throughout, of an off-white (not pure white) colour, such as a light pastel yellow or blue. Please don’t place background images or patterns behind slide content
  • black text throughout, of a uniform size (except for headings) of 20 points or above, in a widely used sans-serif font such as Arial, Calibri, or Open Sans
  • avoid italics, unless present in original material; use bold for emphasis
  • make images as large as possible. If you want to display, say, five images relevant to a theme, don’t squeeze them all onto one slide: give each one a full slide and discuss them sequentially
  • caption images with any useful contextualising information and attribution details
  • make sure there is a reasonable amount of space separating any text box, image or graph from any other; don’t overlay them, and avoid busy, clashing, and cramped design in general
  • when representing information visually (graphs, shaded maps, etc), consider whether the key details would be clear on a low-resolution screen. If precision is important (eg, 9523 votes cast for a winning candidate vs 9520 for the runner-up), it’s probably better to give a table of figures rather than a graph
  • don’t rely on visual communication of information purely through colour (for instance, a safety/risk map scaled from red to green): make sure there’s also a dark/light distinction so that the meaning would be clear if the image was greyscaled

If your presentation involves audio or moving video (other than your own microphone and webcam) then please check carefully in advance that you can share these successfully via Zoom, as there are many possible sources of problems. Note also that, even with everything working correctly, screenshared video may display slowly, stutter or lose resolution for some users, so it’s best not to include examples that are particularly dependent on viewing fine detail.

There is no need to provide your own captions/subtitles. All sessions will have automated captioning available by default (individual audience members can turn this on or off in their view), and manual transcription (CART) by prior request. Most users will be able to arrange the view so that the captions don’t obstruct your presentation, although in a more compressed view they may overlap the bottom third of the screen.

Making materials available to participants

It’s often useful to provide materials in a form that your audience can download directly and view locally: you may, for instance, want to share a copy of your presentation slide file, or a collection of images or extracts from historical source texts (similar to the paper handouts sometimes provided at in-person events).

You can do this in either of two ways:

  • by emailing the document file as an attachment to This needs to arrive by Friday 9 July. Please include your surname and session name in the filename and include the session details in the body of the email. We will do our best to ensure these files are available online via the conference website before the start of the conference. Unfortunately we can only do this for one file per presentation, of a maximum size of 5MB.
  • by hosting the document yourself on a file sharing or file transfer service (DropBox, WeTransfer, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc) and putting a link to the file in the Zoom chat for your session. It won’t be possible to do this in advance, but you can provide as many files as you like this way. Make sure the permissions are set so that anybody with the link can access the file: this is usually not the default setting.

Please be aware that as the sessions are public, any documents you share in this way should also be assumed to have been made publicly accessible. We will not be hosting them in the long term, but you should not use this approach to share anything sensitive or confidential.

Your document should be supplied in PDF format (.pdf). Any widely used software will be able to save as, or export to, PDF. Please turn on the “Document structure tags for accessibility” option if you’re saving as a PDF from Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.

Make sure that your PDF is as accessible as possible. If you are starting from a Microsoft Word or PowerPoint file, use the Accessibility Checker and resolve any problems detected before you convert it to PDF. If you’re working in Google Docs, check its accessibility guidance. Other products will have similar guidance available online.


To ensure clarity for the broadest possible audience, please include both in your spoken presentation and on-screen in your presentation any names or expressions that are highly specialised or likely to be unfamiliar to a reasonably proficient English-speaker, and also any specific details that are particularly important to following the general argument. This would include, for instance,

  • names of people, places and institutions (“William Whewell”; “Utqiagvik, Alaska”; “CIMMYT [International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center]”)
  • specialised, obscure or archaic terms that are important to understanding the presentation but unlikely to be known to the whole audience (“sociotechnical imaginary”, “Spenserian metre”, “appellate jurisdiction”, “PNP transistor”, “euneirophrenia”, “chymistry”)
  • quotations that provide important definitions, or whose particular wording is otherwise significant
  • important dates and developments (“1830: breakup of Gran Colombia”)
  • links or descriptions of further resources for audience members who want to know more.

Terms and phrases in languages other than English are likely to be unfamiliar to at least some audience members, and are often wrongly transcribed by the automatic captioning system. Please include some explanation in English. This may be a literal translation (“The Ersatzprogramm, or ‘replacement programme’, aimed to substitute…”) or a contextual definition (“Poisk, which was a Soviet copy of the IBM Personal Computer…”) depending on what’s most helpful.

Similarly, please briefly explain any nationally or locally specific terms or concepts (“paracetamol”, “K-12 education”, “caudillismo”, “the Beeching Axe”, “Gilded Age”, “the Belt and Road Initiative”, etc), even if they are widely understood in the relevant literature (“the BBC, the national public broadcaster…”; “the National Health Service, founded in 1948 to provide universal healthcare out of universal taxation…”)

Always clarify acronyms and initialisms. This is sometimes best done by spelling them out (“SEATO, the South-East Asian Treaty Organisation, was founded on the model of NATO…”) but often an explanation is more useful (“the GRU, the military foreign intelligence service…”)

During your session

You will be connecting to your conference session through Zoom. If you haven’t used Zoom regularly before, please check the Getting started guide for details. For practical examples, you may find it particularly helpful to look at some of the many tutorial videos available, such as How to use Zoom meeting controls. If you will be using a presentation, make sure you understand and have practised screen sharing before the conference begins.

Many users report that enabling the “Always show meeting controls” option makes it easier to manage your display during a Zoom session. You may also find some of the Zoom keyboard shortcuts useful.

You will receive details of how to connect to the Zoom session from the conference organisers, or possibly, if you are in a planned session, from the session organiser.

Please join your session 15 minutes before the scheduled start, to allow time to check for any technical problems. Make sure other participants can see and hear your audio, webcam video, and screenshared presentation as appropriate.

If you will be playing pre-recorded audio, or video with sound from your computer during your presentation, make sure “Share Sound” is turned on in Zoom and check that this is working.

During the session, mute your microphone whenever you are not speaking. Try to minimise background noise while you are speaking: we recognise it’s sometimes not possible to avoid this completely, but please take all available steps such as closing windows and doors.

If your presentation deals with potentially distressing topics, begin by giving a brief content note (content warning) to prepare any members of the audience who may be significantly affected. Topics for which this may be appropriate include physical and sexual violence and abuse, death and bereavement, miscarriage, abortion, self-harm, trauma narratives in general, hate crimes, language widely regarded as highly offensive (whether abusive/discriminatory or not), and graphic depictions of sexuality, injury, or medical procedures. In general, you are welcome to discuss these topics provided the audience is appropriately informed, but please contact the conference organisers in advance regarding any potentially problematic topics.

Speak clearly and at a steady pace. There is no need to go unusually slowly, but online audiences will have more trouble than live audiences in following what you say if you go unusually fast. The ideal speaking rate depends very much on presentation style, but something around 120 to 140 words per minute is likely to work well.

You will need to keep to time. The conference organisers, or your session organiser, will have given you a maximum time for presentation, and, as we need to schedule the tech support quite carefully, it’s important to avoid over-runs. We recommend rehearsing your presentation in advance to ensure you can keep to time. If you do over-run, please don’t be offended if the session chair has to cut you off.

In most sessions, each presentation will be followed by audience questions, or else there will be a general question period at the end of the session. The session chair will be responsible for directing questions to you, either by inviting audience members to speak or by reading them from the Zoom text chat.

During the talk, and in questions, please use gender-inclusive language when addressing the audience (for instance, “everyone” rather than “ladies and gentlemen”), and don’t assume the gender of speakers or questioners, unless you already know them or they have specified their preferred pronouns. (We appreciate that remembering these things is a big effort for some of us and that slips are to be expected!)

Guidance for chairs

Thank you for agreeing to chair a session at the BSHS online conference. Please read these guidelines before the beginning of your session: 

How the meeting is set up

Unless you’ve been advised otherwise, your session will be hosted as a Zoom webinar. You will find this very similar to the kind of Zoom call most people are familiar with (a Zoom meeting). The main difference is that the audience don’t appear and can’t speak. You, and the speakers, will be able to see each other and speak as normal.

Your session will also have a technical host who will be a member of the conference organising committee. The technical host will set up recording and captioning, make sure the contributors display properly on-screen, deal with any audience problems, and troubleshoot any technical difficulties. Your main responsibilities will be to introduce the session and the speakers, make sure the talks run to time, and manage the question session(s).

Your session details

You should by now have received an email with a link to join the session. This should be from the address “Zoom <>” and will have a subject line of the form “Panelist for [session number and title]”. If you can’t find it, check your spam filter. If you still can’t find it, please contact the conference chair, Sam Robinson, urgently at and he will re-send it.

Please check your session details in the online programme at If you scroll down past the Panel Overview to your session, you will see a full list of speakers with their titles. It’s best to have a copy of this to hand when you are introducing your speakers.

The links in the Panel Overview are registration links for audience members. Please pass these on to anyone who wants to join the audience, but note they won’t work for chairs or speakers: you’ll need to use the link sent in the email.

What to do before the session starts

Important: you will need to join the Zoom webinar session 15 minutes before the advertised start, to allow time to check that everything’s working technically. The speakers in your session will also be joining around this time: if you don’t know them, please introduce yourself and do your best to make them feel comfortable.

Your technical host will be there already, and should be able to guide you through the process of checking that everything’s working correctly. The main priorities are to make sure that everyone’s audio is as clear as possible, and that screen-sharing is working for everyone who will be using it.

Make sure your speakers know how much time they have for their talks. Most of our sessions are planned as 3 papers over 90 minutes, or 4 papers over 2 hours. Either of these gives 20 minutes for presentation and around 5 minutes for questions: you’ll need to leave a buffer of 5 minutes per presentation to allow for possible technical delays, announcements, and so forth. If you have more or fewer presentations, then re-calculate as appropriate. 

Further, please emphasise to the speakers that they will need to keep to time and that we have specifically asked you to ensure this, as it’s important for the smooth running of the conference overall (for instance, your technical host may need to be somewhere else just after the session ends!) This is worth emphasising upfront, as you may need to break in and get them to wind up if they go over time 

You also need to decide in advance when to take questions. There are two options:

  • a short question session after each presentation. This allows each speaker an equal share of dedicated question time, means questions can be raised while the paper content is fresh in the audience’s minds, and makes the schedule more straightforward if you’re strict about timekeeping. The main disadvantages are that it can be awkward if there’s a shortage of questions for a particular speaker, it makes it hard to discuss the papers comparatively, and it’s easy to end up with over-runs if you’re not strict about timekeeping.
  • each presenter in sequence, followed by a general question period at the end. This makes it easier to draw connections between the papers, is more likely to prompt discussion between the speakers, and allows the balance of questions overall to reflect the audience’s priorities. The main disadvantages are that a long run of papers without breaks can be fatiguing, there may be a long gap between a paper and any questions about it, and the most popular papers can overshadow the others. 

It’s up to you which approach you choose, but please consult the speakers on what they would prefer, and make sure everybody knows what the plan is before the session starts. 

Please remember that the audience for this conference is based in locations around the world, has a range of accessibility needs, and will often be dealing with technical challenges such as small screens and slow or unstable Internet connections. Please speak clearly and at a measured pace. If necessary, remind your speakers to do the same. Try to minimise background noise while you are speaking: we recognise it’s sometimes not possible to avoid this completely, but please take all available steps such as closing windows and doors.

Introducing the session

Unless the technical host has any special messages to deliver first, you will be the first person to speak during the session. Please start promptly at the time advertised. 

We ask that you open with this wording (which proved popular at last year’s meeting!):

“Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world, and welcome to the British Society for the History of Science online conference. 

“My name is [your name here] and I will be chairing this session, Session [number here] on [title here].”

Then briefly explain the nature of the session with something along the lines of

“This is a panel organised by [name], featuring [number] presentations”, or

“This is a session compiled from [number] individual papers”, or 

“This is a roundtable session featuring contributions from…”

Then explain whether you’ll be dealing with questions after each presentation, or at the end (see above). 

Then tell the audience how they can ask questions. We suggest the following wording: 

“If you’ve got a question, unfortunately you won’t be able to speak, but you can type it in. You need to click or tap the “Q&A” (that’s question-and-answer) button, which you can hopefully see at the bottom of your Zoom window or screen, and that will pop up a space to ask your question in. 

You can add your questions at any time during the presentation. If it’s not going to be obvious which speaker the question is for, then please add a note of that.”

Now introduce your first speaker. Remember, it’s worth having all the presentation titles somewhere conveniently to hand to refer to.

Mute your microphone whenever you are not speaking. Don’t worry about switching views or making sure the right speakers are in vision, as the technical host will be looking after this.

Introduce the speakers in the order listed in the programme, unless you’re dealing with a last-minute change such as a late-arriving speaker. If you need to change the order, please explain this clearly to the audience in advance, and maybe give a repeat mention later on.

Please do all you can to prevent speakers from over-running. It may feel awkward to cut into the discussion if they’re running over – which is why we suggest you point out before the session starts that we, the conference organisers, have asked you to do this if necessary, and they have been warned in their own guidelines document. If you’re taking questions after each paper, you’re welcome to make time up by only taking one or two questions after an over-run. It may also be useful to thank speakers for their excellent timekeeping where appropriate!

Dealing with questions

Audience questions should start to appear under “Q&A” in Zoom as they are raised. Standard guidance on “backup questions” applies: for each presentation, you should think of one or two questions yourself which you can raise if there’s no response from the audience. 

Hopefully, though, you will start to notice questions appearing during the talk itself. Note, however, that people often wait till the question session has got started before submitting their own.

You will need to read out each questions yourself. Give the name of the person asking the question if it seems clear that they would want to be named.

Please exercise reasonable judgment and skip any questions that are obnoxious/offensive, irrelevant, based on a fundamental or potentially embarrassing misunderstanding, or very similar to questions already raised.

If there’s anything in the questions that you can’t pronounce or can’t follow, please just apologise and deliver it as best you can: people will be forgiving. If the speakers can’t follow the question, ask the questioner to follow up in the Q&A.

If you notice two questions that are somewhat similar, or obviously linked, feel free to raise them together.

If you have more questions than you can cover in the time available, you may want to say something like: 

“We’ve got a lot of questions here: unfortunately it looks like we won’t be able to get to all of them; I’ll do my best to get through as many as possible. I’m sure the speakers would be happy to be contacted for off-line discussion of anything we can’t raise.

If you’re running an organised thematic panel, it’s probably a good idea to prioritise questions that address the overall theme and might draw useful answers from any or all of the speakers. 

At the end of the session

Please start winding things up at least 5 minutes before the scheduled end of the session. 

We suggest you end with something along the lines of the following (web addresses spelt out for convenience): 

“That’s all we’ve got time for. I’d like to thank all of our speakers, for sharing their research; thanks also to [name of technical host], who has been keeping this whole session running behind the scenes and dealt with any technical issues; and, finally, thanks to you, our audience, for joining us today. 

“Remember, you can find the full programme of events for this conference online at BSHS, hyphen, conference, 2021, dot, org, dot, UK, slash, programme [].

“You can also find out more about the British Society for the History of Science, including membership details, on the main BSHS website at bshs, dot, org, dot, UK. []

“Stay safe and take care, and we hope to see you again soon.”

Again, there’s no need to do anything specific to end the Zoom Webinar transmission as the technical host will look after this. It should be possible to keep the call open for a few minutes (without the audience seeing it) if there’s anything you want to talk to the speakers about, but otherwise you can leave the call once you’ve finished speaking.

Thanks again for your help, and if you have any further questions, please let us know!